Local Hero: Private James Norval Paul MM & Bar

Reminiscences

On 2 May 1919 the people of Strathblane gathered to honour a local hero. They presented an inscribed gold watch to local gamekeeper James Norval Paul “in recognition of his gallantry”. 

Around 115,000 non-commissioned men who fought in the First World War were awarded the Military Medal for their bravery, including two of those remembered on the parish war memorial (Fergie Thomson and the minister’s son Wilfrid Moyes). However, only 5,700 servicemen received a second such commendation in the form of a bar for their MM. One of them was Jimmy Paul.

Military Medal and Bar

Though James Paul was not born in Strathblane and would not die here, he spent much of his existence living and working on the Duntreath Estate, including the periods flanking the so-called Great War. 

He was the seventh of ten children born to Robert Paul and Annie Norval, who had married at Strathblane Parish Church in 1870. Annie was the daughter of a well-known local carpenter. At the time of Jimmy’s birth on 18 February 1881, the family was living at Gargowan Lodge on the Buchanan Estate near Gartocharn, where his father was a gamekeeper.

But within a decade, the Pauls were installed on the Duntreath Estate and various family members would continue working there for around 50 years. In 1891 the Pauls are at Quinloch (on the A81). Robert Paul Senior is again employed as a keeper and four years later James, aged 14, is assisting him. (In the same year Jimmy’s eldest brother was killed in a shotgun accident on another estate.)

In the early years of the 20th century young James worked on several Stirlingshire estates to gain experience before returning to Duntreath as beat keeper, under his father, by now head gamekeeper. 

In 1908 James married Jane Hamilton, a laundry maid at Duntreath. They were both 27 and moved into another estate house, Arlehaven, where their first child, Jeanie was born three months later. A son, Robert, came along the following year and a second boy, William, was born in 1912.

The marriage of James Paul to Jane Hamilton in 1908

Mindful of his young family perhaps, Jimmy Paul did not join the rush to enlist in 1914, though he was soon busy fundraising for the war effort. However, aware that married men were about to be conscripted, he joined the Reserves on 11 December 1915. At enlistment his vital statistics were 5ft 9ins tall, 143lb and with an expanded chest of 38ins. (It was noted that he wore an upper denture.) By now Jimmy and his young family were installed at Blairgar, a cottage on the Pipe Line Track above Glengoyne Distillery. (The cottage is now incorporated into a considerably larger house.) A contemporary photograph of Blairgar shows several ladies, including Jimmy’s mother Annie (centre, in black).

Blairgar

1916 would be a difficult year for the Paul family. In April three-year-old William died of heart failure while undergoing an operation at Glasgow’s Western Infirmary. In June married men were conscripted and Jimmy was called up for active service on 1 August. From now on he would be Private James Paul of the 1st Battalion Scots Guards. In early 1917 he was sent to France but returned to England in July to train as a Lewis Gunner. Three months later he was in action on the Somme and on 25 October earned his first honour. The announcement appeared in the London Gazette. However, as with many other commendations for the Military Medal, there are no published details of his act of valour.

By chance, we know more of Jimmy’s second honour. In September 1918 on the first day of the Battle of Canal du Nord, the 1st Battalion Scots Guards were pushing forward, flanked by the 1st Coldstream Guards and 3rd Grenadier Guards. The operation was a success but Jimmy’s commanding officer, 21-year-old Captain Henry Dundas, was mortally wounded. Dundas’s memoir describes what happened next: “Four men who gallantly went out to try to bring him in were all killed or wounded. Then [James] Paul and another man with great heroism went out without their rifles. They were not fired at and they carried Henry in. It is thought that carrying no rifles they were mistaken by the Germans for ambulance men.”

By way of thanks, Dundas’s servant gave to James Paul his master’s picket cane, informally known as a “swagger stick”. His bravery would also earn him a bar to add to his Military Medal. 

On 15 October, less than a month before the Armistice, James would not be so lucky. In an action at St Python in Northern France he was wounded by shrapnel in the chest and left buttock. Patched up by the 2nd Canadian Hospital in Trepont, he travelled home by Ambulance Boat and was treated at the Merry Flats War Hospital in Govan, Glasgow before being discharged on 5 February 1919 to resume his life as head gamekeeper at Duntreath.  

Jimmy Paul was feted in Strathblane and given a gold watch inscribed: “PRESENTED BY THE PEOPLE OF STRATHBLANE PARISH TO JAMES NORVAL PAUL MM, PRIVATE 1st BATTALION SCOTS GUARDS IN RECOGNITION OF HIS GALLANTRY. 2nd MAY 1919.”

Later the residents of Killearn presented him with an inscribed silver tankard. In its report of Jimmy Paul’s double honour, the Stirling Observer revealed: “He was offered promotion on several occasions but declined it, stating he was only a soldier for the duration of the war, and he has now returned.”

15 Marcfh 1919, Sitrling Observer

In 1922 Jimmy’s 13-year-old son Robert began work on the estate as a kennel boy. Lady Mary McGrigor, the current Sir Archibald’s late sister, recalled childhood visits to Blairgar, where Mrs Paul fed her with delicious drop scones and her pony with mints. When Jimmy resigned in 1935 and took a position on the Foreland Estate at Bruichladdich on Islay, he went with a glowing reference from Sir Archibald that noted the keeper’s “good war”.

Jimmy Paul in later life

In 1948 Jimmy and Jane bought a small house in Kincardine on Forth hoping to enjoy a long retirement. Ten years later on the eve of their Golden Wedding, 77-year-old Jimmy was knocked from his bicycle by a passing motorist near Tulliallan Castle and died of multiple injuries. In his pocket was the gold watch presented to him in Strathblane nearly 40 years before. Jimmy and Jane are both buried in Killearn. The woodland next to Blairgar is still known as “Jimmy’s Wood.”                                                                                   By Anne Balfour, with help from Jimmy’s grandson and namesake James Norval Paul. 

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